Australian independent bookmaker Tom Waterhouse faces a diminished onscreen presence during National Rugby League (NRL) broadcasts after public complaints that the line between commentator and pitchman was being unnecessarily blurred. On Wednesday, a parliamentary committee investigating potential breaches of regulations regarding gambling and broadcasting was told that the NRL and its broadcasting partner Nine Network had agreed to amend Waterhouse’s onscreen role to avoid further controversy.
Waterhouse made headlines in January with a blockbuster deal to acquire the NRL gambling partnership formerly held by TAB Sportsbet. While some reports had suggested the deal was worth $50m, the NRL’s general manager of strategic projects Shane Mattiske told the committee that “the number is not correct” and that public estimates had been “exaggerated.” Regardless, Waterhouse appeared eager to get his money’s worth, popping up during NRL games, microphone in hand alongside Nine’s regular commentators, to offer insights into the game as well as the latest odds available via his betting firm.
Critics suggested Waterhouse’s appearances had blurred the line between pitchman and commentator, but Scott Briggs, Nine’s director of commercial and regulatory affairs, told the committee that round one of the NRL coverage had resulted in 35 public complaints about Waterhouse’s presence, a number Briggs described as “not significant. We get far more complaints for not showing the Broncos in Queensland.”
Regardless, the NRL’s Mattiske said Waterhouse’s future onscreen appearances would be accompanied by signage indicating Waterhouse’s role as a bookie, not a commentator. Waterhouse will no longer appear alongside the regular commentating crew, he’ll be prevented from holding a Nine-branded microphone and his banter must be limited to betting odds, rather than on other aspects of the game being played. It’s not known whether these changes will require either the Waterhouse/NRL deal or the $15m deal Waterhouse inked with Nine to be reworked.
Waterhouse was invited to appear before Wednesday’s committee meeting, but declined due to prior commitments. However, he is likely to be called to a special hearing within the next couple weeks. In the meantime, Waterhouse is rolling with the punches, apparently looking to enhance his role as a sports pundit in other areas. Fairfax Media spotted an advert Waterhouse had placed for a $90k/year “high impact editorial manager” to assist in “leveraging” more media opportunities for the 30-year-old third-generation bookmaker. The ad states that “one of those pillars of growth is that we offer insight into sport, rather than simply offering odds.” Odds are good we’ll be hearing a good deal more from Mr. Waterhouse in the future.